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851-0101-01L  Introduction to Practical Philosophy

SemesterSpring Semester 2019
LecturersL. Wingert
Periodicityyearly recurring course
Language of instructionGerman
CommentParticularly suitable for students of D-MAVT, D-MATL

AbstractPractical philosophy deals in a descriptive and evaluative way with the realm of the practical, that is, with action, practices, norms of action, and values held by people and societies. Ethics and political philosophy are branches of practical philosophy. This introductory course will treat some of the main questions and introduce students to the thinking of central figures in the field.
ObjectiveAt the end of the course, students (1) will be familiar with still highly influential answers to some of the main questions (see below, section "contents") in practical philosophy. (2) They will be able to better evaluate how convincing these answers are. (3) Students' own thinking concerning normative, e.g., ethical issues, will be more precise, due to a more sophisticated use of key concepts such as good, right, morality, law, freedom, etc.
ContentEthics is an account and instruction of the good, that could be reached by conscious, intentional behaviour (=action). Ethics is an essential part of practical philosophy. Therefore one of those central questions, which will be discussed in the course, is:

1. What is the meaning of words like "good" and "bad", used in ethical language? What is meant by "good", if one says: "Working as a volunteer for the <Red Cross> is good"? Does one mean, that doing so is useful, or that it is altruistic, or that is fair?

Further questions, to be discussed in the course, are:

2. Are moral judgements apt to be justified, e.g. judgments like "Lower taxes for rich foreigners in the <Kanton Zug> are unjust" or "Every person ought to be entitled to leave any religious community"? If so, how far a moral judgment's justification can reach? Is one right in arguing: "It is possible to show the truth of the proposition (a):The emissions of nitrogen dioxide in Zurich is far beyond the permissible limit (80 mg/m3). But it is not possible to verify the proposition (b): In our times, the inequal global distribution of wealth is far beyond the permissible limit. Proposition (a) states an objective fact, whereas (b) expresses a mere subjective evaluation, though that evaluation might be widely spread.

3. What are just laws, and what is the relationship between law and morality?

4. Is freedom of a person, though presupposed by criminal law and morality, nevertheless an illusion?

These questions will be partly discussed with reference to seminal authors within the western philosophical tradition (among else Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Immanuel Kant). Contemporary philosophers like Jürgen Habermas, Thomas Nagel, Ernst Tugendhat or Bernard Williams will be included, too.
LiteraturePreparatory Literature:

-Dieter Birnbacher, Analytische Einführung in die Ethik, 2. Aufl. Berlin: de Gruyter Verlag 2006.
- Simon Blackburn, Think. A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy, Oxford: University Press (=UP) 1999, chapters 3 und 8.
- Philippa Foot, <Virtues and Vices> in: diess., Virtues and Vices and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy, Oxford: UP 2002, and <Morality, Action and Outcome>, in: dies., Moral Dilemmas and Other Topics in Moral Philosophy, Oxford: UP 2002.
- H.L.A. Hart, <Positivism and the Separation of Law and Morals, in: Harvard Law Review 71 (1958), pp. 593-629.
- Detlef Horster, Rechtsphilosophie zur Einführung, Hamburg: Junius Verlag 2002.
- Robert Kane, <Introduction: The Contours of the Contemporary Free Will Debates>, in: ders., (Hg.), The Oxford Handbook of Free Will, Oxford 2002.
– Thomas Nagel, The Limits of Objectivity, in: The Tanner Lectures on Human Values 1980, Vol I., ed. Sterling McMurrin , Cambridge et al.: UP 1980, pp. 75-139.
- Ulrich Pothast, <Einleitung> in: ders., (Hg.), Seminar: Freies Handeln und Determinismus, Frankfurt/M.: suhrkamp taschenbuch wissenschaft 1978, pp. 7-31.
- Bernard Williams, Morality. An Introduction to Ethics, Cambridge: UP (=Canto Series) 1976.
- Peter Winch, The Idea of a Social Science, 4.Aufl. London 1965, ch. II.
Prerequisites / NoticeThe course will be a mixture of lecture and seminar. For getting credit points, essays on given or freely chosen subjects have to be written.